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(Way too) early, but Mitch Leidner projected as first-round pick in '17

Gophers quarterback Mitch Leidner had been listed as a possible 2017 draft sleeper. Today, the hype went to a new level.

In his "Way-too-early 2017 NFL mock draft," ESPN's Todd McShay projected Leidner as a first-round pick (No. 25 overall, to the Dallas Cowboys). McShay writes:

Leidner shows some upside as a passer, but I'll be looking to see if he can improve his accuracy (59.5 completion rate and 14/11 TD/INT ratio in 2015). Listed at 6-foot-4 and 237 pounds, Leidner has ideal size and has shown the ability to make plays with his legs off designed runs and scrambles. He's a late riser to keep an eye on, similar to Blake Bortles and Carson Wentz.

Leidner is entering his third full season as the Gophers starting quarterback and has 35 college games under his belt. He struggled early last season playing behind an injury ravaged offensive line. But Leidner finished the year with a 59.5 completion percentage, up from 51.5 as a sophomore.

He was also playing with severe ligament damage in his left foot, which required surgery two days after he was named MVP of the Quick Lane Bowl. Leidner was able to do everything except 11-on-11 drills during spring practice and is a full-go now for captains' practices.

CBS Sports draft analyst Benjamin Allbright has tweeted that Leidner could be a sleeper, which was notable because Allbright had done the same thing with Wentz, the North Dakota State QB that just went No. 2 overall to the Eagles.

Allbright later tweeted, “My mentions are in shambles, Gophers fans somehow think ‘sleeper’ means I think Leidner is going day 1. He’s barely draftable, but has tools."

Leidner will get a chance this year to work with the Gophers' new offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Jay Johnson. Leidner has the size and the arm strength, he runs well when healthy, and he has led the Gophers on numerous late-game scoring drives in close contests.

Last year, when McShay wrote his "Way-too-early 2016 NFL mock draft," he was bullish on Big Ten quarterbacks. He had Penn State's Christian Hackenberg going No. 1 overall, Michigan State's Connor Cook going No. 2, and Ohio State's Cardale Jones going No. 7.

Ultimately, Hackenberg was a second-rounder (Jets), Cook (Raiders) and Jones (Bills) went in the fourth round, Indiana's Nate Sudfeld (Redskins) and Michigan's Jake Rudock (Lions) went in the sixth round. No Big Ten QB has been drafted in the first round since Kerry Collins went No. 5 overall in 1995.

McShay qualified this year's picks by writing:

Let's start by emphasizing the first part of the headline above: Way-too-early. There's a reason we use that terminology for this piece. I have not studied tape on most of these players. I've simply done my best to match up many of the top players on my preliminary list with teams that make sense.

And for what it's worth, in last year's "Way-too-early" mock draft, McShay did hit on 15 of the eventual 32 first-round names.

TCF Bank Stadium's new field is less sport specific; no football markings yet

The Gophers have installed new FieldTurf at TCF Bank Stadium, but it's currently missing football yard lines. The University of Minnesota purposely kept the permanent design of the new turf less sport specific, so it would be easier to host other events such as soccer games.

Minnesota United, for example, has considered working out an agreement with the university to play its 2017 season at TCF Bank Stadium, if it is ready by then to make the transition to Major League Soccer. Another option for United is Target Field before it's proposed new stadium is built in St. Paul for the 2018 season.

"Nothing has changed as far as MLS; we're talking to [United] about it," said Gophers senior associate athletics director Chris Werle.

The permanent design of the field has a white rectangle for the boundary which is more narrow than the NCAA football boundary. The word "MINNESOTA" is in gold letters where each end zone would be, and the middle features a maroon block 'M.'

For now, the rest of the field is green.

"We finished the field ahead of schedule," Werle said. "We're waiting for some materials to come, and then we'll put the football lines down."

The football lines are expected to be painted onto the field in about two weeks. But why not have the football field permanently etched into the turf, as it was before?

"I think we've found since we've been here that this is a great multi-use stadium," Werle said. "We want the option to hold different events in there."

The Vikings played at TCF Bank Stadium the past two years, waiting for U.S. Bank Stadium to be constructed. After each Vikings game, the purple markings and NFL hash marks were immediately removed to make it look like the Gophers field again.

If United were to play at TCF Bank Stadium, its markings -- with the circle at midfield and the penalty boxes -- would be painted onto the field and then removed.

"With anything else held on the field, we should be able to pull up any markings," Werle said. "That will be the Gophers football field, I assure you."